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Trump’s Tweets Make Clear He Doesn’t Get How Impeachment Actually Works

President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning sent out a series of two tweets that demonstrated he doesn’t understand how the impeachment process for a president actually works.

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Trump, in his tweets, made various attacks on the Mueller report and the investigators who took part within it, as well as accusing Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party officials of committing crimes themselves. But brushing aside those accusations (as they have been largely debunked), Trump also made comments on the calls for impeachment proceedings to begin based on the findings of the Mueller report.

“I DID NOTHING WRONG,” Trump stated. He then laid out his strategy if impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives.  

“If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only…are there no ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all,” the president wrote.

There are two issues regarding Trump’s characterizations of the impeachment process that need to be corrected.

First, the Supreme Court doesn’t have any say in whether such proceedings can happen or not. The House of Representatives, according to the Constitution, is the sole body that decides whether to move forward with impeachment, and the Supreme Court cannot prevent lawmakers from doing so.

Only after impeachment is voted on and approved does the Supreme Court have any involvement in the matter, but only in a minimal way: the Chief Justice of the Court presides over the hearings to indict the president, which occur in the Senate. Even then, the Chief Justice doesn’t have much say in what happens — if two-thirds of the Senate votes in the affirmative, agreeing with the House’s calls for impeachment, the president is removed.

That’s how the process works, and the Supreme Court cannot stop it from happening, as Trump has suggested.

The second way in which Trump appears to be ignorant on the matter is on the issue of the term “high crimes and misdemeanors.” While a president can be impeached for committing a criminal offense, his removal is not solely dependent on having committed a crime, either.

Indeed, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is an old phrase dating back to English common law from the 12th century that the founders included in the Constitution’s provisions on impeachment. It was understood by the document’s authors to mean egregious actions or abuses of power performed by a member of the executive branch of government that warranted their ouster.

The founders had originally intended impeachment of the president to be justified by instances of “treason, bribery, and corruption,” according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. But because corruption was too broad of a charge to bring about, they made efforts to find a more suitable term that would grant Congress a strong check against an abusive president, beyond simply treason and bribery, which they left in place.

After flirting with the idea of replacing corruption with “maladministration” (itself, too, a term that was broad), the founders decided on using the term of “high crimes and misdemeanors” instead — which again, doesn’t mean literal criminal actions conducted by the president or their officers.

This has long-been the accepted idea behind what the term means. Indeed, Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent supporter of President Trump, pointed out in the late 1990s, during the impeachment proceedings of former President Bill Clinton, that the justifications for his ouster didn’t have to include an actual crime.

“If this body [Congress] determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role,” then impeachment is warranted, Graham explained at the time, per previous reporting from HillReporter.com. “Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”



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